If Your Copyright Is Violated
Anger is the emotion that most writers feel — strongly, and rightly so — when they realize one of their copyrights has been violated. To see your work under another person's byline in a magazine article or on a magazine's Web site can be utterly infuriating. Equally as enraging is seeing an article that you sold to a magazine for first North American serial rights being reprinted time and time again without your permission or any additional compensation coming your way. You're also likely to be livid if you see one of your magazine articles lifted and posted on a third party's Web site.
Remember, your writing is how you make your living. If someone violates your copyright by using your work without your permission, then they are stealing from you, plain and simple.
If you intend to accuse a publication of violating your copyright, it is important that you retain a copy of the evidence. Should your work be posted on a Web site, print out a hard copy of the page. If your work is printed in a magazine, keep a copy of the total issue for future legal uses.
The first thing you should do after collecting evidence of the copyright violation is calm down. Take a few deep breaths and realize that copyright violations happen literally every day to writers working for all kinds of magazines. Does it stink that it happened to you? Of course. But you have options for resolving the situation. You need to think like a businessperson instead of a wounded creator in order to get your due in the most professional manner possible.
Option One: Making Nice
Your first option for trying to resolve the theft of your work is to assume that the person who used your work made an honest mistake. It's hard to imagine this happening in the case of a legitimate magazine stealing a story outright. On the other hand, it's easy to understand how an intern creating a charity newsletter might lift your article reviewing a “fun run” and copy it into the newsletter out of simple enthusiasm at seeing the charity's name being put into print.
Magazine editors talk to one another not just about writers' abilities but also about their temperaments. Trying to resolve problems — even large ones like copyright theft, no matter how angry you are — in a calm, professional manner will work in your favor over the long run of your magazine-writing career.
The routes you can take to make nice in situations like these depend on whether the copyright violation occurred online or in print. Certain laws protect you in one form of media but not necessarily in others.
Violations on the Web
If your work is posted online without your permission, then you can invoke the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, usually referred to as the DMCA. It became law in October 1998 and implements two World Intellectual Property Organization treaties.
The DMCA does a lot of things, but for your purposes as a magazine writer, you'll want to know that it has a provision known as “notice and takedown.” Basically, this provision means that if you find your work online illegally, you can notify the person who posted it and demand that it be taken off the Internet immediately, without question.
Nine times out of ten, the offender will not want a hassle and will remove your work from his Web site immediately. If he does not, then you have lost nothing legally. You still retain all your rights to try to make nice in other ways or to take legal action and attempt to collect actual and statutory damages.
Violations in Print
A good way to handle a potentially accidental copyright infringement when the violation is in print is to contact the offending publication and ask for the editor in chief (or for the marketing director of the company or organization, if that is the type of publication that lifted your work). When you get the top person from the offending publication on the telephone, you can calmly explain that his publication printed your copyrighted work without your permission. In many cases, that statement alone will be enough to trigger a profuse apology and offer of compensation. You can, at that point, ask for a payment amount that you believe is fair — say, the same amount you were paid to write the story in the first place — and end the matter when the person promises to pay you in full.
If the person balks or goes silent, then it is appropriate for you to explain — again, calmly — that violation of a registered copyright can carry stiff financial penalties, sometimes rising into the low six figures for willful violations. Most people get the message at this point and realize that simply paying you the original story's fee is a darn good deal. This is a good scenario because you get fairly compensated, they don't get sued, and your reputation for being a professional remains intact.
Option Two: Making Them Pay
Unfortunately, not all of the people who violate your copyright will want to take the high road and settle the problem amicably. This is especially true if the violator has deeper pockets than you do. He may realize that you don't have the wherewithal to file an actual lawsuit, and he therefore will continue to flout your legal rights, assuming that he is facing no real danger except your ire.
What does it cost to hire an attorney with expertise in copyright violations?
Hundreds of dollars an hour, easy. And that amount does not include additional court fees, document copying and transfers, and other costs that can quickly add up into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These are the kinds of people you
The question then becomes, “How do I bring a person like that to his knees?” You'll need the help of a well-trained professional.